Guest Post: Five Things a Day
Here’s my new friend Michelle Chouinard, a blogger who has thrown herself into the world of writing, and has set for herself some attainable goals. What she says here? Do it!
Today I thought I’d share with you one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read, and why I think it works. I found it about a year ago in one of Lawrence Block’s books about writing; there are several, all useful, but this one snippet has been the most helpful thing I’ve found in them: Do five things every day to move your writing forward.
What five things? Well, that’s up to you. But do five things, every day, no matter how big or small.
One of those things should be writing, of course. We all know we should write every day. Another of those things should probably also be reading: how lucky are we that we’re in a profession that forces us to read prolifically! Twist my arm, why don’tcha?
But the others are more flexible. Make a new connection on twitter. Read an article about writing on your favorite blog. Spend half an hour researching agents. Look for relevant pins to add to your character board on Pinterest. Have lunch with a fellow writer, to get those creative juices flowing. And so on, and so on.
They should be different things, of course. Don’t write five pages of your book and declare yourself done. Don’t friend five new people on Twitter and go have a snack. Each of these count as one thing.
The things you do will differ depending on where you are currently–if you already have an agent, researching agents doesn’t make sense. If you’ve just had a book published, several of these things will probably involve book promotion. Just make sure to do five, every day.
Why is this so important?
Speaking for myself, I’m the sort of person who would happily crawl into a little cozy writing cave for six months and have no contact with the human race. My significant other would throw me scraps of food and come in for a cuddle now and then, but that would be it and I’d be happy as dust on a tchotchke.
And when I came out of my cave, I’d have lost half of my social media contacts because everyone would have thought I’d gone all Snake Plissken. I’d have missed a ton of new books and interesting articles, which I’d be too overwhelmed to catch up on after the fact. And any interesting prompts or discussions that might have made my writing better would never have crossed my path. I would have also lost valuable time trying to get my other projects out into the world.
It takes time to get things submitted, find an agent, get a book/article/story published; we all know this. You don’t just finish a piece, say “Woohoo!” and flick the “publish now” switch. While you’re sending out those letters and working through the rejections to get to the acceptances, you should be writing your next book/article/story. These things take far too much time to do in a fully linear, non-overlapping way. At least if you want to be successful and have enough money to pay the rent.
I would have also lost valuable time building my platform, something that’s becoming increasingly important for aspiring writers. Blog readers and Twitter followers don’t develop over night, and they don’t take kindly to being neglected for long. At least the ones that involve actual people that you actually want to connect with. Just like a plant, you can’t water them only once every six months and expect them to grow.
And maybe most important of all, while I was in that cave writing, the part of my brain that thinks about all this stuff gently in the background while I work would have had no input. Yep, it’s true, the brain works on problems and processes information even when we’re not thinking about it. Things we’ve read, seen, and done recently prime concepts and knowledge in our minds, keeping it all activated and ready for use when it’s needed. So when we do a variety of tasks over time, we keep our minds efficiently processing whatever particular task we’re focusing on at the moment.
So try it out. Sometimes I’m not as good as other times at remembering to do all five — sometimes I only do a few, and sometimes I crap out altogether. So I’ve created a simple spreadsheet to jot down which things I did each day–this lets me know if I’m slacking off too much for too long, and reminds me to revisit things that I haven’t touched for a while. You know how it is — “Gee, it seems like only a week since I compiled that list of prospective agents, but it’s been a month! I better follow up on that.”
Thank you, Lawrence Block, for the amazing advice. So far, it has served me well, and I have every confidence it will continue to do so. Now where’s my next installment of Matthew Scudder??
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Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.